Day-by-Day 2010

After the Frost

16th/17th January 2010
At Norbury Junction
Saturday 16th January
The first weeks of the year had been some of the most “wintry” for a number of years, with snow and ice and temperatures that remained below zero for day after day. I’d had to cancel a trip up to Norbury due to the weather last weekend so this was the first opportunity to see what damage, if any, Starcross had suffered. Fortunately I had had the foresight to drain down the water system, including the water heater, to avoid a repetition of last year when the frost damaged our old Paloma beyond repair. There were no obvious burst pipes and as both the water pump and the shower pump are well insulated I have high hopes that they are not damaged, although I won’t really know until I refill the system in the spring. One casualty, however, was the old beer bottle we use as a candle holder and fill with water to add stability. The water had frozen solid, bursting the glass and leaving a cylinder of ice sitting on the table! Some water – or more probably snow – had come in through the pigeon box, soaking the bed beneath, but we were overdue for a new duvet anyway, so Hil promptly went and bought one in Newport (or rather from a “shed” on the by-pass!). The only other damage was self-inflicted. Despite reading on the Canal World Forum about someone who managed to crack the glass in his stove by warming it up too quickly, I managed to do exactly the same thing when lighting ours. Strangely, the crack was within the thickness of the glass and didn’t break the surface, but as we had a spare on board we fitted it anyway, just to be on the safe side. During this time, what had been a fine winter’s morning had become a cold and foggy afternoon
Foggy afternoon at Norbury Junction
 so, after running the engine for a while to charge up the batteries we settled down to an evening on board, enjoying a meal and listening to “Carmen” from the New York Met on the radio.

Sunday 17th January

There was still quite a bit of ice in the cut both on the main line and, particularly, at the wharf

                                          Ice at the mooring
so we abandoned any plans to move the boat and went for a walk along the quiet lanes and field tracks around Norbury, under Shelmore embankment and westwards towards the A518 Newport to Eccleshall road, crossing this old canal bridge on the Newport branch on the way.

                               Old Bridge on the Newport Branch
All in all I was quite relieved to find Starcross in the condition we did, but I left looking forward to my next visit and hopefully a trip up the cut!

Back on the Move

Norbury Junction to High Onn and Back

6th/7th February 2010

Saturday 6th February: Norbury to Gnosall
I drove up to Norbury early on Saturday morning, stopping at Newport for a bit of shopping and a second breakfast in the market hall cafe. Never very busy, the Market Hall appears to have suffered another blow with a couple more stalls closed and empty. Its only in use two days a week, Fridays and Saturdays, as it is and at this rate I do wonder how much longer it will carry on. The plan was to go down to High Onn, wind and return to Gnosall for the evening, but it didn’t work out quite like that. First job was to get some diesel at Norbury Wharf. Unlike some boatyards, Norbury Wharf is very good at leaving enough space for boats to come alongside and buy fuel – or anything else for that matter. But with all the hire and shared ownership boats being “in” at present there wasn’t a lot of room for Starcross. A line of boats was moored stern on the wharf, then a space of about 50ft and then the Norbury Wharf day boat. As I was sizing it up from the bridge a boat appeared from the north, executed a neat turning manoeuvre and itself tied up stern first. I wasn’t sure I could do that, so left getting fuel for a while to see if more space became available. As I eventually approached the wharf, which from the north is hidden under bridge 38, a boat suddenly appeared from the wharf, causing me to take evasive action. The steerer saw me and held back to allow me room to pass the bridge but not on my intended line. Indecision is a boat steerer’s worst enemy, yet now I couldn’t decide whether to try the “end on manoeuvre”, attempt to get in side-on or abandon the attempt altogther! I’d just decided on the last course of action, but as the bow swung out away from the wharf I suddenly saw the perhaps it would be possible to reverse on after all. Trying to look as composed as possible, I brought the boat to a stop and then took her back gently alongside the last boat in the line, coming to rest with my stern just kissing the wharf edge alongside the diesel pump. Jumping off to tie up I looked around for the admiring glances of the lookers-on, of which there are usually many at this location, to find that there had apparently been no witnesses as all! Always the way when you get in right. I took on 88 litres at 56p a litre (plus tax on a 60/40 split), which with a copy of Waterways World came to £78. (You have to buy something in addition to diesel at Norbury Wharf if you want to pay by card otherwise they sting you for an extra quid!). Then it was across to the sanitary station to empty the cassette and fill the jerry can that serves as the water supply whilst the system is drained down over winter. Then it was time for lunch and so it wasn’t until nearly two o’ clock that I set off towards High Onn, which is the first winding hole south of Norbury. I reached Gnosall at 2.45 and then realised that as it would take another ninety minutes to get to High Onn and back I wouldn’t have much time to get to the pub to watch the rugby internatonal if I carried on. So I stopped at Gnosall, lit the fire, did a bit of tidying up and later strolled up to the Horns Inn in Gnosall village to watch England beat Wales 30-17 (but only just!). On the way home I called at the local chip shop for some rather mediocre fish and chips for tea.

                                 Starcross at Gnosall 6 February 2010
Sunday 7th February: Gnosall to High Onn and back to Norbury
After an early night I was up bright and early. Gnosall is well stocked for shops and so I tooo the opportunity to replenish a few supplies ready for the weekend after next. Then it was down to High Onn on a cold, grey winter’s day to wind and return, back through Gnosall again, and on to Norbury Junction where, by the time I’d moored and tied up securely it was just 1 O’clock. The afternoon soon passed, being taken up with exciting things like getting the vacuum cleaner out and black-leading the stove and soon it was time to leave and drive back to Hereford.

Spring Trip to Chester

19th February – 7th March 2010
Part 1: Norbury Junction to Nantwich
Crew: Jim and Bernard
Friday, 19th February: At Norbury
I took the train to Shrewsbury, stopping off to do the shopping in the much improved indoor market. It has several good butchers, two bakers, three fruit and veg stalls, including an organic one and a top-class fishmongers. Such a shame its in an uninspiring 1960s building.  

From Shrewsbury I continued by bus to Gnosall, where I unloaded the folding bike and cycled the remaining two miles to the boat by which time it was about 12.00 Bernard, coming from Leicester, wasn’t due until late afternoon, so I busied myself unpacking and then tried to light the fire. I’d made the mistake of sweeping the flue first. What this does is to deposit most of the soot on a plate inside and at the top of the stove, where it blocks the air draught from the fire, causing smoke and fumes to remain inside the stove, extinguishing the flames and filling the cabin the smell of coal smoke! The only way to deal with it is to remove the soot from the top plate by hand; and as its very difficult to get to, due to the configuration of the stove you end up with scratched and filthy hands and a very bad temper. Eventually I got it all clear and was able to light the fire but we still endured a cold night aboard as I managed to forget that I’d left a window open overnight.

Saturday, 20th February:Norbury to top of Audlem
We left the mooring at 8.45 and made some progress through Grub Street cutting and High Offley to Shebdon wharf, where we stopped for breakfast, which always tastes much nicer when you’ve been boating for an hour or so. There weren’t many other boats on the move, but as we went to untie “Lady Arwen” came past and we followed her towards Tyrley. We were relieved when she stopped at the top of Tyrley locks allowing us past, but it still took us an hour to do five locks, one of which had a broken paddle. The main reason for the slow locking was that I am still not fully recovered from my recent heart problems and am “not allowed locking”. Bernard was therefore having to do all the lock work himself. It was 14.00 before we got to Market Drayton, where we stopped to refill the drinking water container. The main water tank had been drained for the winter and although I had intended to refill it for this trip I didn’t do so as more cold weather was forecast. Back on the move, we reached the five locks at Adderley by 16.00. Some of the lock gates were getting icy and Bernard found it prudent to walk round rhe lock rather than do the “leap of faith” from one bottom gate to another. This, of course, slowed us down and it took 55 minutes to complete the descent and then another hour to Cox’s Bank, just below the first two locks at Audlem. In the evening we walked down to the Bridge Inn, which has been refurbished internally recently without changing its character, although whether you think that a good thing or not depends on your taste in pubs.
21st February: Top of Audlem to Bridge 90, Nantwich
It had been a cold but clear night as we walked back from the pub so we were absolutely astounded to wake to a carpet of snow on Sunday morning!

                                              Starcross in the snow at Cox’s Bank
The snow was still falling, so we walked down to the next lock to assess the situation. Staying where we were wasn’t really an option as there is no Sunday bus service from Audlem to anywhere and I had to be back at work on Monday morning. We decided that if we could devise a method of working that eliminated, or at least minimised, the need to walk across the gates that we would carry on. Our first plan was that Bernard would open the top gate and I would take Starcross in, getting off on the opposite side to Bernard. We would then each open the paddle and gate on one side and Bernard would haul the boat out using the centre rope. We would then each close a bottom gate and get back on the boat. This didn’t quite work, as the by-washes that take surplus water around the lock got in the way and I was unable to reboard from my side. I therefore had to walk across the gates after all, although this was definitely the lesser of two evils when compared with trying to clamber on from above the by-wash. After a few locks I remembered the old trick of letting water into the empty lock to create a flush that would help Bernard pull Starcross out and by this method we made our way down the flight.

                                                      Audlem locks in the snow

                 Bernard using the gate handle as an impromptu pulley
                 to haul Starcross out of lock 5
In such conditions, progress through the flight was necessarily slow and it was 11.30 – three-and-a-quarter hours later – before we reached the bottom of the flight. At the bottom, the snow stopped and the sun came out. We carried on at stop at Bridge 90, just south of Nantwich at a spot where I had left Starcross before and where I was happy to leave her again. Bernard and I locked up and walked up the towpath to the Aqueduct where we caught the “84″ bus to Crewe station before going our separate ways.

Spring Trip to Chester Part 2

27 February – 7 March 2010
Crew: Jim and Hil
Saturday, 27 February: Nantwich to Henhull
Hil had to work today so we travelled separately to the boat. Leaving in the morning I took the train to Nantwich, changing at Shrewsbury. I’d intended to do some food shopping in the town’s excellent market, but found an even better Farmers’ Market in progress in the town square so stocked up there as well. After lunch on the boat the plan was to take Starcross over the aqueduct to the water point and refill the water tank, which had been left empty over the winter. I was a bit wary of this, because the winter had been one of the coldest I could remember and I wan’t sure how the plumbing had survived. As soon as I had enough water in the tank I switched on the pump to see what would happen. Sure enough, there was a leak – in a pipe under the bathroom sink. This was most annoying as, if I’d thought about it, I could easily have lagged it. At least the water heater had survived, unlike last winter which cost me a small fortune when the old one succumbed to the frost. I stopped filling the tank at this point and went off to see if anyone at Nantwich Canal Centre nearby could help. They were too busy, but they did succeed in selling me some Hep2O fittings and plastic pipe to attempt my own repair – I decided to wait until Hilary arrived to try that. So, I moved up to Henhull moorings and stopped – illegally – on the “Henhull Moorers Only” rings outside their car park. Its an odd situation at Henhull. There is no road access to the offside moorings so moorers there park in the car park and use skiffs to cross the canal to fetch their boats over to load and unload before and after trips! They are therefore very protective of their mooring and car park as we found out on the way back. Hil arrived about eight 0′ clock and as it was so late we decided to leave the plumbing until the next day.
Sunday 28th February: Henhull to Bunbury
Because I’d only partly filled the water tank yesterday before discovering the leak, we decided to move up to Calveley to complete the process before starting on the plumbing. The surviving wharfside buildings at Calveley make it an atmospheric place to stop and take water and I’m always pleased to stop here.

Taking on water at Calveley
From here we moved the short distance to the visitor moorings to have a go at repairing the leak. First job was to cut away the broken copper pipe. Of the two hacksaws on board, one had a blade designed for cutting butter and the other had a vital piece missing – the bit that holds the blade in! The steerer of “The Viking”, a Dutch-barge style narrowboat moored nearby kindly lent us a third and with this we removed the damaged pipe to find this:

                                                    Damaged pipe from under the sink
Replacing the cut out pipe with the Hep2O fittings was relatively easy, but not having seen the job in hand, Nantwich Canal Centre had sold me the wrong sort of connectors and pipework so that when we tried the refitted pipe the joint leaked. At this point we gave up and went for a walk around the nearby village of Bunbury. “The Viking’s” steerer had suggested that Anglo-Welsh at Bunbury might be able to help so although we kenew it would be too late in the day to find anyone at work by now we moved the short distance up to Bunbury so that we could call in first thing in the morning.
Monday, 1st March: Bunbury to Beeston
After a very cold night, with ice on the cut, we called in at Anglo-Welsh who soon sorted the problem out using a more appropriate Hep2O connector after which we were soon on our way, but not before spotting this relic of the trading days of the cut at Bunbury

                                           Shropshire Union signage at Bunbury
The stretch between Bunbury and Beeston is particularly attractive, especially in winter sunlight.

                                                                 Between Bunbury and Beeston
We’d planned a cycle ride for the afternoon so tied up just above Beeston Stone Lock, so-called to distinguish it from Beeston Iron Lock nearby. The bike ride took us around the base of the Peckforton hills, passing Beeston and Peckforton castles and calling in for afternoon tea at a tea shop / art gallery with spectacular views across the Cheshire Plain to the Welsh hills and the Mersey estuary.
Tuesday, 2nd March: Beeston to Chester
It was very cold again overnight, but I’d managed to keep the fire in, which made things more bearable in the morning. We got away by 9 o’clock with the intention of getting to Chester by early afternoon although it took rather longer than expected. For the first hour we encountered large amounts of thin ice on the surface of the cut, then we were slowed by a long line of moored boats – ironically just past the half-empty Tattenhall marina. On the way back later in the week I counted 126 – and quite a few empty spaces. At Christleton we stopped to fill up the water tank at what must be the least convenient water point on the system – just before a bridge, across a busy towpath and with mooring possible only by banging mooring pins in.

Inconvenient water point at Christleton
By now it was time for lunch, which we ate on the roof of the boat as the weather had taken a turn for the better. Christleton lock turned out to be very slow in operation, partly due to two broken paddles (one at each end) but a BW operative turned up to begin a repair on the top one as we were descending. The remainder of the locks down into Chester were also slow. At Hoole lock I lost a windlass, which got knocked off the roof by a rope and fell into the full lock!

Landmark water tower at Hoole Lock
The visitor moorings in the middle of Chester were devoid of boats but busy with pedestians and passing road traffic, so we carried on down the Northgate staircase to Tower Wharf, finally tying up at 16.45 – so much for our afternoon in Chester! We did, however, get into town for the evening enjoying a meal at a “French” restaurant that was having a special offer evening, thus making it affordable!

                                                                    Chester by night - 1

                                                                 Chester by night - 2

It looked as if we might be in for trouble later on when a group of youths began to gather on the towpath after chucking-out time, but after the obligatory shouting and screaming they eventually moved on, leaving us in peace.
Wednesday, 3rd March In Chester
Here is a photograph of our mooring at Tower Wharf, taken from the city walls:

                                                      Starcross at Tower Wharf, Chester
We started our day with the obligatory walk around the walls, which almost completely encircle the old city centre. They offer a number of contrasting views – mediaeval buildings, Roman remains and  Victorian terraced streets

                                                   Albert Street from the city walls
We couldn’t complete the circuit due to some repair work being undertaken on one section which necessitated a diversion into a hideous modern shopping centre. Regaining the walls on the other side we arrived at the cathedral. It looks inviting and interesting from the outside, but by the time we had found the entrance which was through a dark and dingy corridor, passed some rather smelly public toilets, avoided the souvenir shop and arrived at the cash desk where we were expected to pay £5 each to progress further we’d lost interest. Instead we called at the indoor market, bought a new mop handle for Starcross and some cheese for us and returned to the boat for lunch. In the afternoon we took to our bikes and cycled down the River Dee. The first part of the ride took us along the towpath of the branch from Tower Wharf that falls to the river via a flight of locks, then it was along the banks of the canalised river – dead straight, so a bit boring, but easy cycling. We passed under the Queensferry bridge which carries the old A55 trunk road. In the 1960s this was a notorious  bottleneck for holiday traffic to and from the north Wales coast, but the road now carries only local traffic. At Connah’s Quay we crossed the river via the railway bridge (it has an adjacent foot and cycle path). Here we witnessed the inshore lifeboat being launched, which promptly headed back up the river to Saltney to investigate a report of a body in the water. We followed the cycle path along a disused railway line through Blacon and back to the Shroppie towpath, which we followed back to Tower Wharf. After a fish and chip supper from one of the two local chippies (the other one may be better!) we made our way back into the city for a concert of classical music in the St. Mary’s Centre organised by the Chester Music Club. It was a mixture of amateur and professional performers and shall we just say that even to my untrained ear the difference was noticeable! The highlight of the concert was Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and soloist Sophie Rosa gave an outstanding performance.

Thursday, 4th March:  Chester to Beeston
The bow fender on Starcross had been hanging too low for some time and consequently had been about as much use as a chocolate teapot in the locks. Tower Wharf, however, was the ideal place to put it right, with a good firm towpath and plenty of room to swing the boat round and bring it end-on to the bank. This allowed me to take the weight from the bank, while Hil shortened the restraining chain to bring it up to the required height. This done, we set off out of Chester, up Northgate staircase (where Hil almost caused a flood by leaving a paddle partly open!). Going uphill, the broad locks on the Chester Canal are fierce and require a different technique to other wide locks. On the Grand Union, for example, it’s the practice to open the top paddle on the same side as the boat so that the incoming water passes underneath and rebounds off the opposite wall, keeping you pinned to the side. This doesn’t work on the Chester Canal, as the water seems to erupt from directly underneath the boat, sending the bow across the lock until its half full, when it changes direction and pushes you back again, sometimes quite strongly. We stopped for lunch at Waverton, opposite the golf course and, once again, it was warm enough to sit on the roof and enjoy the sunshine. The cut was very quiet and not a single boat came past the whole hour we were there.

                                            Lunchtime view from the roof at Waverton
Hil fancied a bit of a bike ride and set off for Tarporley, while I took Starcross back past the 126 moored boats and into the half-empty Tattenhall marina to buy a bag of “coal”, which turned out to be smokeless fuel, but I didn’t mind as it had been delivered by John Jackson’s “Roach”. Hil and I were reunited at Wharton’s lock and carried on to Beeston for the night, tying up this time above the Stone Lock, opposite this pair of working boat front ends:

                                                         Two working boat bows at Beeston
Friday, 5th March:  Beeston to Nantwich
Getting ready to set off this morning, after another cold night, we found that the throttle lever was coming away from its mounting, which necessitated a temporary fepair before we could get away. Consequently it was not until 11.25 that we got to the staircase lock at Bunbury/

                                                          Bunbury staircase locks
We stopped at Henhull to check on the car and were immediately shouted at by a boater opposite, telling us we were on a private mooring, which we knew. At Henhull the moorings are on the offside, with no road access, so boaters park in the car park opposite and use skiffs to gain access to their boats on the other side of the canal. We found out later that they guard their car park as eagerly as their mooring and visiting cars have been known to be blocked in! We stopped for the night at Nantwich, even though it was early afternoon, and took a stroll into the town. It was the wrong day for the market, so I had to make do with Morrison’s while Hil went and had her hair done. In the evening we enjoyed an excellent meal in the Red Cow – a Robinson’s pub with a superb view of the bus station from the lounge window.

Saturday, 6th March:  Nantwich to Adderley
Last night was the warmest of the trip, with no ice anywhere to be seen. We were away by 9.15 and reached the two locks at Hack Green by 10.25, where Hil left me to cycle back to Henhull and pick up the car, meeting me again at Audlem. Just before Audlem we passed the a marina under construction which, together with that at Tattenhall has certainly increased mooring capacity on the northern Shroppie.

                                            Overwater marina at Audlem under construction
With Hil off the boat I worked the first three locks at Audlem single-handedly, albeit with a little help from the lady off Chalfont coming up behind. Hil met up with me at Audlem wharf, where we stopped for lunch – and were promptly overtaken by three boats, which made for a slow passage up the rest of the flight. It took over two-and-a-half hours to clear the remaining twelve locks and we then spent a further ten minutes trying to close the top gate of the top lock behind us, due to an obstruction behind the gates.

Clearing the obstruction at Audlem Top Lock

We’d intended to tie up at the top of the five-lock Adderley flight, but the moorings here have an underwater shelf which means you have to moor a way out from the bank and into which the boat bangs and crashes all night, so we moved on instead to a spot a bit further along that we’ve used before. On arrival I found that I managed to break both a wine glass and a plate in the kitchen, probably by approaching lock landings too quickly and  consequent heavy “braking” with the centre rope.
Sunday, 7th March: Adderley to Norbury
Another very cold night, with ice on the bedroom windows in the morning yet again. Hil cycled back to Audlem to pick up the car (which was becoming a nuisance by this stage of the trip) whilst I took Starcross south along the Shroppie, meeting up with her again at the bottom of Tyrley locks so that we could do the flight together. With the locks to ourselves it took only 40 minutes for all five and, after passing through Woodseaves cutting we stopped for luch at Goldstone Common. More car shuffling followed, with Hil cycling back to Tyrley (she’s not too keen on taking Starcross single-handed) driving to Norbury and then cycling back to the Anchor at High Offley, where I arrived just as she had settled down in the beer garden with a half of Wadworth’s 6X (well, they were out of Pimm’s again!) We were back at Norbury Junction by 15.45, but had to move “Land of Green Ginger” off our mooring before tying up. (“Oh!, I thought it would end up in the wrong place”, boatyard manager, David).

A Night at Norbury

9th / 10th April 2010
We called in at Norbury Junction on our way home from an Easter break in Arnside, Cumbria arriving mid-afternoon and taking the boat up to Grub Street cutting for evening, partly to try out the new prop that Norbury Wharf had fitted and partly to get away from the engine running that is a feature of any moorings in the early evening as everyone charges their batteries for an evening of power-hungry television viewing or whatever. I noticed straightaway that the minimum speed was slower due to the smaller prop and later calculated that in theory it should be 20% less, although I have no way of measuring that. The evening was actually warm enough to avoid lighting the fire for the first time this year and, similarly, on Saturday morning it was warm enough to enjoy breakfast outside in the well deck. Afterwards, we winded and returned to Norbury where, after years of fitting Starcross smoothly into a space not much bigger that the boat and with a minimum speed to high for comfort I made a pig’s ear of tying up despite one of our neighbours being away and hence there being a much larger space to aim at!

A Working Weekend

At Norbury Junction
30th April – 3rd May 2010
With the Boat Safety Certificate examination due in the summer and mindful of what it cost to get Starcross through it last time, last weekend was designated a “working weekend” on the boat. In 2006 we made no attempt to prepare for the exam and paid the price, literally, with a list of failures as long as your arm. This time we hope to do better.
At the same time we thought we’d tackle some of the long-standing “domestic” jobs on the boat that we never otherwise seem to get round to. So, between last Friday evening and Monday afternoon, we:
Checked the ventilation, fire extinguishers and battery terminals.(all failed last time)
Painted the floor of the gas locker (a “fail” in 2006)
Emptied the gas locker of all the superfluous bits of kit that have accumulated there since 2006 (another fail)
Checked and cleaned the gas burners on the hob, grill and oven (and another)
Scraped the rust off the solid-fuel stove and repainted it with stove paint.
Removed and replaced half the tiles in the kitchen and cleaned and re-grouted the rest.
Stripped off the old wallpaper in the bathroom and put up some new.
Removed the bathroom tiles and replaced them and, finally
Washed and polished both sides of the boat and polished the brasses!
When I say “we” I mean Hilary – who is the practical one aboard Starcross! My role is confined to fetching and carrying and basic jobs like cleaning and making the tea.

                                               Hilary at work re-tiling the kitchen
We didn’t get round to servicing the pilot light on the water heater (too difficult without the right tools and with the totally inadequate diagram in the instruction manual) or re-carpeting the cabin floor – although we did buy the carpet tiles. In between times we managed to get a meal at the Navigation in Gnosall and to visit the Norbury Canal Festival which was taking place at Norbury Junction over the weekend. We’ve been to this annual event a few times, but there seems to be less and less there every year and with the cold and wet weather 2010′s festival was a bit of a washout.
On Saturday, “Baddie the Pirate” called round to try and sell us some LED lighting. I’d noticed from her website that Sarah-May was attending the Canal Festival and she agreed to bring some samples round to Starcross for us to look at. Starcross has “bus bulbs” in the main cabin and new LED versions of these are just coming on the market. I’d bought one from another supplier and was very pleased with the quantity and quality of light it emitted, but disappointed at the extent to which it interfered with FM radio reception. Baddie’s “bus bulb” LED’s are of a different design and don’t interfere with radio reception. I bought one as a trail, intending to replace the rest if it was a success, but after trying it out after dark I was unhappy with the amount of light it gave out, so I relegated it to the bedroom and won’t be getting any more. Baddie also sells the smaller 12v LED’s suitable for ceiling lights, but by the time you’ve added the necessary converter there isn’t room under the domes for them on Starcross, so altogether it was not a very productive visit for Sarah-May and I hope she did better elsewhere during the festival.

Long Weekend to Compton

7th – 10th May 2010
Norbury Junction to Dinningsdale and back
Friday 7th May: Norbury Junction to Brewood
A train to Shrewsbury and then a bus got me to Newport in time for an early lunch and a bit of shopping in the market, followed by a quick spin on the folding bike to Norbury, where I arrived about 13.15. It took a while to unpack and sort things out, but then I took Starcross over to the water point to top-up the water tank and empty the cassette – tasks which were accomplished by 15.00.
I then set off along Shelmore embankment in disappointingly poor weather – cold and grey. The new prop, fitted recently at Norbury Wharf, works well but is very noisy at certain engine speeds – usually the ones I want to go at! At Wheaton Aston I came across Debdale. This is a shared ownership boat, so bloggers Adam and Adrian are not always aboard, but they were today and we exchanged a few brief words as I passed them, carrying on to Brewood for the evening -although I was too tired after last night’s election coverage to have more than a couple of pints in the village’s excellent pubs.
Saturday 8th May: Brewood to Compton
The weather this morning was even worse, cold, grey and wet! I set off at 08.35 and went as far as the visitor moorings at Bridge 8 before stopping for breakfast. A cooked breakfast always tastes better after a while in the open air and I’d managed to get some Staffordshire Oatcakes at Newport to make it even tastier.
Debdale came past just before I set off, so I followed them down to Autherley Junction and through the stop lock on to the Staffs & Worcs Canal

                                      Following Debdale towards Autherley Junction
I was followed through the stop lock by local boat “Cetus” a cut-down and converted ex-Grand Union Canal Carrying Co. butty built in 1935 and still going strong from its base in Brewood. Debdale, Cetus and Starcross all made their separate ways to Compton and we all tied up there for lunch, although Debdale was on her way shortly afterwards.

                                                        Cetus, tied up at Compton
I spent the afternoon on the boat at Compton, whilst it rained quite heavily and when it had cleared up a little embarked on a bus trip to Tettenhall, where, as a tennager, I once spent a couple of weeks on holiday with a Great Aunt(!) and then into Wolverhampton and on to Wednesbury and Willenhall to visit a few pubs recommended in the local CAMRA guide.

Sunday 9th May: Compton to Stretton
The weather was much better this morning and after a leisurely breakfast I spent an hour or so polishing the brasses before setting off to turn above Wightwick Lock. On arrival I noticed the lock was full and the gate paddle up and was wondering whether the boat in front, noticing that I was single-handed, had drawn it for me or if it had just been forgotten by the uphill boat I’d just passed. Either way it distracted me enough to put one foot in the water when stepping aboard at the bow to adjust the cratch cover and also to completely forget that I was supposed to be turning here until I was through the lock and away!
I had to carry on to Dimmingsdale and wind just below the lock there.

                                                                          Dimmingsdale Lock
Last time I was at Dimmingsdale Starcross missed the winding hole here (although I wasn’t steering) and we had to go down the Bratch to turn and back up, which made for a late finish to the day’s boating. And I still have the marks from the time before that when my windlass slipped off the extremely heavy paddle gear and hit my leg just below the knee! I noticed working back up that the paddle is as stiff now as it was then, three years ago. By half-past-hour I was back where I started from at Compton, forty-five minutes later I passed Autherley Junction, where the top gate of the stop lock was open and waiting for me and then carried on to Stretton aqueduct, stopping for the night just past the boatyard there.

                                                 Stretton Aqueduct - in need of a lick of paint!
Monday, 10th May: Stretton to Norbury Junction
Despite the proximity to the A5 the mooring proved peaceful and I had a good night’s sleep, waking at 8am and getting away by 9.15 after taking a few photographs of the aqueduct. By 10 I was passing Wheaton Aston, where a local boater kindly went out of his way to close the bottom gates of the lock behind me. I called in at Norbury Wharf for some diesel, gas and a flue brush to replace the one dropped in the cut in February and then spent the afternoon tidying up and making last-minute preparations for the boat safety exam due next week.

Boat Safety Exam

Friday, 21st May 2010
Starcross passed the Boat Safety Examination “with flying colours” today and is now officially “safe” for the next four years! Well done Starcross!

Weekending to Braunston

Day Zero:Arrival at Norbury
Friday 11 June 2010
I arrived at Norbury after an uneventful journey by train and bus to Newport and then on the folding bike arriving about 19.15. Norbury Wharf had re-arranged the moorings and given us a bit more room between boats and I enjoyed a quick chat with our relatively new neighbour on “Land of Green Ginger”, who I’d not seen before. Starcross was facing north and I wanted to head south, so rather than go up to Grub Street I decided to be brave and reverse to the wharf to wind. This involves negotiating two lines of moored boats and the bridge, but it went off without a hitch and the new propeller certainly played a part in this.
After winding I collected some drinking water and then moved down to the visitor moorings on the embankment for the night.
Saturday 12 June 2010: Norbury Junction to Hatherton Junction
I was up quite early and able to give the brasses some much-needed attention before setting off at 9.20 on a warm and sunny morning. After four hours or so I was at Brewood and stopped in the cutting on the visitor moorings for a rest, some lunch and some shopping in the village.

                                                   Brewood Visitor Moorings
I let go again at 14.35 and carried on down to Bridge 4, just north of Pendeford, stopping again for a cup of tea and, to be frank, to get out of the increasingly hot sun. I was also leading a convoy of three boats and wanted to let them get clear before we got to the stop lock at Autherley. The visitor moorings provided by the Shropshire Union Canal Society can be very useful, but at this location the “Shroppie Shelf” which can make mooring dificult along the canal is quite prominent and passing boats caused “Starcross” to bang against it all the time I was there.
After a short while, therefore, I carried on through Autherley Junction and turned left onto the Staffs & Worcester Canal, heading for Hatherton Junction. By now, boats were tying up all along the cut, sometimes in unlikely places, all looking for a television signal to watch what turned out to be the first inkling of team England’s impending failure in the World Cup – a 1-1 draw with the USA! Hilary drove up to meet me for the evening, arriving shortly after I did about 19.00hrs
Sunday 13th June 2010: Hatherton Junction to Penkridge
Today was dominated by getting boat and car in the right place at the right time, but first of all I had a look around. Hatherton Junction was where the Hatherton branch left the main line – a route which allowed boats eventually to reach the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford and which may again, one day, do the same albeit by an altered route forming a handy cut-off across the top of the BCN.

                                                   The beginning of the Hatherton branch
The first two locks on the branch are still in use, leading to moorings. After a look around, Hil took the car to Penkridge, our destination for the day, and cycled back to meet me at Gailey top lock. We made the mistake of stopping for a coffee, during which time three boats passed as, putting us at the back of a queue for the locks. Once we’d stated on the flight, however, progress was better with several uphill boats leaving locks in our favour. There was, however, total confusion at the bottom lock with empty boats tied up on the lock landing; a boat on the water point that was actually waiting to use the lock and an uphill boat exiting the lock but wanting to get on the water point – all of which Hil attempted to convey to me by means of hand-signals! Eventually our turn for the lock arrived and we tied up for a late-ish lunch below. It promptly came on to rain, so we did a few “inside” jobs, Hil in the bathroom whilst I put up the new decorated coat rack up in the cabin. By 16.00 it was time to go home and we reached Hereford at 18.10 after a hold up on the M6, leaving Starcross at Penkridge for a few days.
Wednesday 16th June 2010: At Penkridge
I had a meeting to attend in Birmingham which finished by mid-afternoon, following which I was free to have a look round and see what was happening at Gas Street Basin and the surrounding canals. I don’t seem to be able to resist photographing boats at Gas Street and today was no exception.

Former Birmingham & Midland Canal Carrying Company boats at Gas Street
Afterwards, I walked over to New Street station for a London Midland train to Penkridge, stopping at the Co-op en-route from station to boat to collect supplies for the next few days.

Thursday 17th June: Penkridge to Armitage
For the rest of the trip to Braunston I was going to be single-handed. I’ve done a fair amount of solo boating before, but not for so long or with a deadline to keep, so I was interested to see how I’d get on. I made a start at 08.30 and was soon at Midland Chandlers at Teddesley, but despite it being a barn of a place they had very little that I actually wanted or needed, just a spare glass for the stove to replace the one that replaced the one we broke last winter. After the stop I was third in a queue of three for the lock and wasn’t through until 10.15. Most of the oncoming boats I met along the next stretch seemed to appear suddenly at bridgeholes and at Radford an Anglo-Welsh day boat steerer panicked and ended up on the mud, but at least we avoided a collision. Tixall Wide has nose-to-tail with moored boats and I carried on to just above Tixall lock for an extended lunch break, during which time two loaded coal boats came past.
By mid-afternoon a breeze had got up and it was a little cooler, so I was away by 15.15 to Great Haywood where I turned on to the Trent & Mersey. When single-handed you have to do everything yourself and all the mistakes are your own. At Colwich lock I failed to tie Starcross up properly before walking back to close the bottom gates. I returned to find her drifting in mid-channel with the centre rope trailing tantalizingly just out of reach!

                                                                    Starcross adrift at Colwich
There were no sticks or anything on the towpath that I could use to get the rope and Starcross was slowly drifting down the cut! The far bank was well-nigh inaccessible and, of course, there were no other boats around so I was relieved to notice eventually that a combination of wind and current from the by-wash was taking her gradually into the towpath side so that after a while I could jump on at the bow and relieve the situation! After that it was a fairly uneventful journey through Rugeley and on to the far side of Armitage tunnel. There are two pubs here which I hadn’t visited before. The “Plum Pudding”,  had an upmarket food menu but only one cask beer, which promptly ran out when I ordered a pint and the “Spode Cottage” across the road which serves the adjacent caravan park and is a bit more down to earth, but with much better beer!

 Starcross on the embankment at Armitage, as seen from the garden of the Spode Cottage pub.
Friday 18th June 2010: Armitage to Fazeley Junction
The traffic noise on the main road at Armitage got going early and woke me up at 05.15! After a cup of tea in bed I was up and away by 06.25 – possibly me earliest ever start on “Starcross”. This meant that I was at Fradley Junction by 09.10, although already there were plenty of other boats on the move. Tying up just after the junction with the Coventry Canal I treated myself to breakfast before moving off at 10.00. Today was much cooler than yesterday, cloudier and with spots of rain. I had to reverse sharply at one point as oncoming boat “Shuckborough” emerged from a blind bridgehole but at least thenew  prop, which had been “singing” loudly (a very irritating noise caused by underwater vibration), was quiet afterwards. Reaching Huddlesford Junction, the other end of the once and future link through to Hatherton Junction, at 12.00 I stopped for morning coffee and a look around.

                               Signpost at Huddlesford Junction
The Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust, the organisation behind the re-opening of what was the Wyrley and Essington Main Line and the Hatherton branch, has erected this signpost pointing the way to Ogley Junction, where the restored canal would join the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations). Restoration is under way at a number of sites along the former line and the section from here towards Lichfield is “phase 1″ of the project. Shortly after setting off again it began to rain and I eventually stopped for another extended lunch at Hademore Farm just before the rain got really bad. As usual, just as I was tying-up along came two passing boats, just to make it more difficult. I didn’t get going again until 15.00, by which time the rain had nearly stopped and I arrived at Fazeley Junction at 16.30 where, having accomplished my objective for the day, I tied up.
That evening I took a bus into Tamworth to try out a few pubs, but England were playing Algeria in the World Cup, so pubs were very busy and some were “full”. The best available was “The Globe” and I spent most of the evening here before getting the last bus back at 22.15.
Saturday 19th June: Fazeley Junction to Hartshill
I was away by 07.35 and swiftly up the two locks at Glascote, which were both against me at first, although a boat coming down made the top one ready. Breakfast was taken above the top lock and I was off again by 09.40. Polesworth was reached at 10.30, where I had another brief stop, finding time to give the brasses a much needed polish and I was at the bottom of Atherstone locks for 12.50. There is a convenient stopping point half-way up the locks, which I used for lunch and the now customary rest before resuming at 15.30. As I was closing the bottom gates to lock 7, Ownerships boat “Rufford” was just arriving and its crew gave me some help through the next few locks, although by the top of the flight they were two locks behind me!

                                          Watling Street Bridge, No. 43, at Atherstone
World Cup Fever had certainly struck at Atherstone, as can be seen at the top lock!

                                                                            World Cup Fever!
After stopping briefly at the top for some emergency shopping I carried on to Hartshill, stopping on the informal moorings just before the maintenance yard, which was just as well as all the “official” ones further on were taken. Hartshill Yard is one of the unsung wonders of the waterways – a classic example of the beauty through utility completely absent from modern architecture. If this was built today it would be a rectangular metal-clad shed.

                                                           Hartshill Maintenance Yard

                                                More canalside buildings at Hartshill
Being late June, the sun was very late in setting and the surrounding scene so perfect that, despite it being Saturday night, I elected to stay on the boat for the whole evening.

Sunday 20th June: Hartshill to Brinklow
By the standards of this trip I had a lie-in, not getting away until 10.00 this morning. The eight miles to Hawkesbury Junction took all of three hours, although I’m not sure why. Hawkesbury Junction, or “Sutton Stop” as its widely known, is much photographed – and one can see why.

  Boats from the Oxford to the Coventry Canal make a 180 degree turn under this bridge

The Oxford and Coventry Canals run side by side for a while before making a junction under the bridge above.

                                                   The Greyhound Inn, Hawkesbury Junction
The Greyhound Inn here is very popular with boaters and locals, particularly on a sunny Sunday lunchtime. There is a stop lock here between the two canals with a rise of only a few inches. Visitor moorings here were all full, so I carried on for an hour before stopping for lunch beyond bridge 4, being passed as I did so by a “British Waterways Warden” on his bike.
Kris and Bernard’s boat “Sunshine” was at Brinklow and I must have just missed Bernard coming to collect it after engine work by Rose Narrowboats. It was the first time the two boats had “met”.

Sunshine, - meet Starcross!
Once again, the visitor moorings here were full, but I was happy to carry on half-a-mile or so to Bridge 34, tying-up on the 14-day moorings instead. About an hour after stopping I got a phone call from Bernard saying that he had seen Starcross at Brinklow as he came through, but didn’t realise I was aboard! I hadn’t seen him pass either and by then he was well on the way to his planned overnight halt at Rugby. I changed my planned route into the village later that evening due to a pair of Swans who had taken up residence on the towpath and were vigorously attacking anyone who came near them! Fortunately there was an alternative route to “The Raven”, the best of Brinklow’s three(?) pubs.

Welcome to Brinklow
Monday 21st June: Brinklow to Braunston
I was away today by 8.55 on another lovely, hot sunny morning. First landmark of the day was Newbold Tunnel, the Oxford Canal’s answer to Blackpool Illuminations.

                                                                       Newbold Tunnel
Shortly afterwards, at Rugby, I came across “Sunshine” again – but still no sign of Bernard. The only locks of the day came at Hillmorton, where the flight is duplicated with each of the three having a twin alongside, which speeds things up enormously. I was just closing the bottom gate of the first when I saw an approaching boat so crossed over and opened the gates of the other lock for it. This was reciprocated by the crew of “Florian” opening the top gate for me and, even more helpfully, closing it after me. We worked all three locks together in this way, helping each other without the need for any requests or instructions as to what to do next. Sharing locks with other boaters can be a nightmare, but when, as in this case, the other boaters know what they are doing it’s a pleasure. I was clear of the flight by 12.15 and was able to stop just short of Braunston a couple of hours later. I had hoped that by getting to Braunston nearly a week before the Gathering I might be able to bag a more central spot to tie-up but a walk along the towpath soon showed that where I was was as good as it was going to get!

                                            Mooring spot just outside Braunston
After a while, I realised that there was a slightly better spot a few hundred metres further on. It was too hot and I was too tired to be bothered to move up, but I decided I’d see how I felt in the morning.

                                                               View from the bow
I knew that “Sunshine” would be coming along behind me and, sure enough, at about 17.15 I heard her Lister SR2 in the distance. I was a bit surprised that my welcoming wave was not responded to until I realised that Bernard’s daughter Louise was steering and as she hasn’t seen me since she was a teenager she obviously didn’t recognise me. I know from my own trips on Sunshine that with the engine in full belt you can’t hear anything anyone says to you from the bank so I understood why she just waved and carried on when I asked if they were stopping!
That evening I had a walk into the village of Braunston and visited a couple of pubs. The Plough sold me a truly awful pint of Mild, but the sunset glimpsed from the back of the Wheatsheaf more than made up for it!

                                               Braunston afterglow at nearly midnight
Tuesday 22nd June: At Braunston
This morning I walked up to the chandlers at the bottom lock to buy a new mooring line as the one I was using looked as if it was about to go. I then moved the boat up to spot I’d identified yesterday after which it was time to get the “Geoff Amos” bus to Rugby station and the train home.

Braunston Historic Working Boat Gathering

25th / 26th June
Friday 25th June
I got back to Braunston on the day before the show at 14.30. Hugh was due to join me from a bus arriving two hours later so, at the appointed time, I walked back to the bus stop to meet him. The bus arrived promptly, but without Hugh, who had missed it in Rugby. He eventually turned up at the boat an hour later, having caught the next one.
That evening we walked down to the marina to visit the beer tent, which had a lively pre-show atmosphere, but after a while we drifted away to sample Braunston’s pubs, which were disappointingly quiet.
Saturday 26th June.
We spent the day at the Gathering. Here is a selection of photographs of the event.

                                                                  Nutfield and Raymond

                                                                  Ara and Archimedes


                             Boats in various British Waterways liveries

                                            Sorry, Didn't get this one's name.
As well as the working boats, I also saw this. . .

                                                        A Stunt in a Punt
. . .a punt, being poled from Cambridge to Oxford by students, fundraising for charity.
We left Braunston at 17.00, slowly past long lines of moored boats towards Napton Junction and then on to the top of Stockton Brook locks, where we tied up at 20.15. We were surprised to be joined by a pair of Willow Wren hireboats carrying a full load of scouts, which arrived at about 21.30 having come from Rugby that afternoon. By then we were on our way to the “Boat Inn”. At sometime in the 1970s Hugh and I had some of the best beer – Draught Bass – that we’ve ever had – before or since – so we looked forward keenly to our visit. Of course, the pub had changed completely inside and it no longer sells Bass, but the Hook Norton and Fuller’s London Pride were in very good nick.

                                                            The Boat Inn, Stockton Brook

Braunston back to Norbury

27th – 30th June
Sunday, 27th June: Stockton Brook to Top of Hatton
Today was going to be a marathon. We had to descend through 19 broad locks to the bottom of the Avon valley and then climb all the way back up again by means of 23 locks to the top of Hatton. Accordingly, we made an early start (07.30) but the scout boats were ahead of us which meant that the locks were against us. We got into a slight contretemps with an uphill boat not long after starting out. Hugh went ahead to set the next lock, but failed to see two oncoming boats just about to leave the lock below. He therefore “turned” the lock against them which meant they had to wait for us to go through, wasting a lockfull of water in the process. The steerer of the first boat was rightly aggreived, but when I tried to explain that Hugh just hadn’t seen him (he is partially-sighted) he started having a go at me for only opening one bottom gate of the lock I’d just vacated! I was particularly annoyed at this becuase not only did I only need one gate opening but he had three crew members up at the lock doing nothing about it. The eight locks took us an hour and thirty-three minutes, or just over 11 minutes a lock. Not particularly fast, but they were mostly against us and we didn’t have the benefit of sharing with another boat. We were luckier at Bascote, where we shared the staircase lock but then we caught up with another single, leaving us third in a queue of three and on our own again.
Radford bottom lock was the first lock I ever passed through aboard Starcross, when the then owners, Mark and Mandy, invited us for a day’s boating long before they thought of selling and we buying. This was also the first time since then that I’d been this way.

                                                               Radford Bottom Lock
Hugh was due to leave the boat at Leamington Spa, where Duncan would join to replace him. Duncan’s had managed to catch an earlier train than planned so he texted to say that he would walk up the towpath to meet us, which he did shortly after Radford. Unexpectedly he had Ken, another occasional crew member, with him. We dropped Hugh off at Leamington and then continued to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Willow Wren hireboats from yesterday were tied up so that the crews could listen to England being knocked out of the World Cup. Ken had to leave us at the bottom of Hatton, but Duncan and I were able to pair up with “Wild Cherry”, whose efficient husband and wife crew were a pleasure to work up the locks with – a task that took three hours, with most locks set “against” us.  It was 19.00hrs before we reached the top, where we tied up for the night, making our way after tea to the “Waterman” – a much modernised but still atmospheric pub, where Duncan and I sat on the balcony, drinking Hook Norton Special Dark Mild and watching the moon rise and the planes heading into Birmingham airport – very romantic, or at least it would have been if I’d been with someone other than Duncan!

Monday 28th June: Top of Hatton to Birmingham
It was now clear that we had a fighting chance of getting back to Norbury early enough on Wednesday to get home again by train, although an early start was called for.  Wecaught up with “Wild Cherry” on Rowington embankment, where the crew were enjoying an al fresco breakfast and Duncan chose that moment to lose concentration and run us aground. He was very embarrassed of course, but the only comment from the skipper was “You just can’t get the staff, these days. . .”  Shortly afterwards, I was mopping down the roof and dipped the mop in the cut as we went along – at which the mop head fell off and promptly sank! By the time we got to Kingswood Junction we were ready for our own breakfast, after which we set off up the locks on the Northern Stratford Canal, having opted to take this route to “get the locks over and done with” rather than face the Birmingham locks at the end of a long day.

                                                                     Lapworth locks
Passage along the Stratford Canal was uneventful except for an encounter with a group of bored youths just before bridge 9 at Shirley. They had been throwing stones at floating debris in the canal as we approached and decided to throw some at us as well as we passed: no real damage was done, although I realised later that one “hit” had resulted in some chipped paintwork on the cabin side.
Back in May I’d had a new propellor fitted, to match the new engine I’d had earlier. It had improved handling no end, but unfortunately it was very noisy – a phenomenon known as “singing” and something to do with clearances between blades and counter (not that I understand it completely). By the time I’d got to Braunston I was thoroughly fed up with it – although it did seem to be becoming more intermittent  - and I was determined to do something about it when I got back to Norbury, even if it meant putting the old one back on! However, as we turned from the Stratford Canal onto the Worcester and Birmingham at Kings Norton Junction the singing stopped – and hasn’t really come back since other than very very intermittently and even then for short periods! Birmingham was reached at 19.00, after an eleven-and-a-half hour day and we tied up on the Main Line, next to a boat in an almost identical livery to Starcross!

Tuesday 30th June: Birmingham to Brewood
We were away this morning a little later, at 08.55 following the new main line to Bromford Junction then making a totally unnecessary u-turn so that we could go up Spon Lane Locks – some of oldest locks in the country – which took us to Spon Lane Junction, “nestling” underneath the M5 motorway

                                                                   Spon Lane Junction
Here we made another sharp turn onto the Old Main Line, but now heading once again towards Wolverhampton. The 21 locks of the Wolverhampton flight took us exactly two hours and 37 minutes – once again they were all against us, apart from the bottom lock, which the lock wheeler from the boat in front had kindly re-set for us. Autherley Junction was passed at 17.05 and we tied up just passed the full visitor moorings at Brewood at 19.00, enjoying a tour of the village pubs after tea.
Wednesday 30th June: Brewood to Norbury Junction
We set off at 09.00, Duncan steering whilst I tidied up inside and packed. Duncan left at Gnosall for a bus to Stafford and then train to Manchester.
I arrived at Norbury and tied up back on my mooring at 13.00. After lunch I cycled to Newport on the folding bike to catch the Shrewsbury bus. I’d noted from the timetable that the bus started its journey at a school and, sure enough, when it arrived it was carrying a full load of schoolchildren. To his credit, the driver didn’t bat an eyelid when I shoehorned my wan on, complete with rucksack and bike – but I wasn’t prepared for one of the children to offer me his seat!  I turned it down in the belief that the bus would soon empty as it passed through nearby villages but Newport School must be a posh one as most of the children were going all the way to Shrewsbury, even though that has a rather posh school of its own.

Market Drayton

23rd – 25th July 2010
Friday 23rd Arrival at Norbury: Had the use of the car, so drove up after work via Much Wenlock arriving 19.30. Despite being ready for tea I unloaded and unpacked before wandering over to the Junction Inn to eat, only to be told there was a half-hour wait for food! Even when it did arrive I can’t say it was up to much – food is not this pub’s strong point. (I’m not sure what is!).

Saturday 24th: Norbury Junction to Market Drayton.

When the throttle level started to work loose back in March I asked Norbury Wharf to fix it for me, which they did – for £70. I was therefore disappointed when it started to come loose again on the way back from Braunston. It struck me that £70 was not a lot of money for a boat repair so it couldn’t have been a big job so I should be able to manage it myself. First problem was to work out how it was connected to the throttle cable in the first place and eventually I realised that I would have to take off the instrument panel and approach it from above. I was very wary of this as experience has told me that taking things apart is much easier than putting them back together again! However, I was determined to have a go and, rather to my surprise, I found the source of the trouble: a bolt that needed tightening with a spanner from the tool kit I inherited with the boat. This job done I was away by 11.30 as part of a convoy of boats heading north.
David and Gill from “Endeavour” were tied up at the Anchor, High Offley “Doing a few jobs”, although quite why they needed to move from their mooring to outside one of the best pubs in the country to do them defeats me! I carried on to Shebdon Wharf, where I stopped for lunch for half-an-hour or so. Approaching bridge 54 I came across a Countrywide Cruisers hire boat aground. I offered to help but they had just managed to get free so, foolishly, I waved them on ahead of me only to have to follow behind as they their way excruciatingly slowly towards Tyrley. I’d intended to stop at Goldstone Common, which was one reason why I waved them ahead, but the moorings here were choc-a-bloc. I couldn’t face following the slow boat down the locks so tied up at Tyrley to let them get ahead. I could have stopped here for the night, but the pub’s pretty awful so at 16.25 I set off down the five locks at Tyrley, which took me all of 53 minutes (not bad, single-handed with them all against me) and I was at Market Drayton water point to fill up at 17.50. It took half-an-hour to fill at this notoriously slow tap, after which I winded and reversed under the bridge to tie up. An hour later I realised I’d left my key in the water tap but when I went back it had gone!

Sunday, 25th July: Market Drayton to Norbury Jc
I was away from Drayton  by 07.30 and had Tyrley locks all to myself, which allowed me time to leave the boat in each full lock and go on ahead to set the next one with gates open ready so that I could run straight in. In this way it took 67 minutes for the flight of five. The early start had been achieved by postponing breakfast, which I now enjoyed at Tyrley Wharf. David and Gill (“Endeavour”) were now back at their Shebdon mooring and I passed neighbouring boat, Land of Green Ginger in Grub Street cutting. I was back at Norbury by 13.00, so had plenty of time to fill up with diesel (60p per litre before tax) and then reverse on to the mooring before having lunch listening to the Grand Prix on Radio 5 Live.

Robert Longden at Coventry

27th – 30th August 2010
Friday 27th August: Norbury to Gnosall
London Midland trains had a special offer of £10 anywhere on their network, so I came up on the train via Birmingham and Stafford with my folding bike on which I cycled from the bus at Gnosall arriving at 13.00. After luch and topping up the water tank I took Starcross down to Gnosall on a hot and sunny afternoon. After arriving and tying up on the visitor mooring at bridge 35 I polished the brasses and cleaned the windows before getting a huge fish n’ chip supper from the local chippie.

Saturday 28th August: By bus and train to Coventry.

Sonia Rolt’s book “A Canal People” contains some superb photographs of working boats and boaters taken by Robert Longden around Hawkesbury Junction in the 1950s and when I heard that an exhibition of his work, including some previously unpublished material, was being held at the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry I just had to visit.

Afterwards I had a walk around Coventry city centre, largely rebuilt in what is now an iconic 1960s style after being devastated by German bombers in November 1940, but with a few quiet surviving corners by way of contrast.

                                               A corner of old Coventry

Highlight of the “modern” shopping centre is, for me at least, the retail market, opened in 1955 and, apparently, “the most popular market in the Midlands”

Coventry Market comes complete with roof-top car park. At the time it was thought that all new public buildings would have a car park on the roof!

                         I’ve got a luvverly bunch of, er, Cauliflowers!

Sunday, 29th August:  Gnosall to High Onn and Cowley

Hil arrived from Hereford at 13.00 and prompltly went for a lie down! Apparently she’d been at a party the night before! When she surfaced we took Starcross down to High Onn to wind looking out for an overnight stopping place on the way. Most of the recognised good spots were already taken but eventually we found somewhere just north of bridge 28. A fierce northerly wind had made turning “interesting” at High Onn but I managed it without hitting either of the two boats moored in the winding hole. After tying-up – itself a struggle with the wind and mud – we went for a walk along an old Roman Road shown on the OS map, but there was hardly anything to be seen of it, just an ill-defined field path. That evening we were entertained firstly by a stupendous sunset and later by three Tawny Owls calling to each other and eventually we were fortunate to see one of them flying past us by moonlight!

                                                                   Sunset at Cowley

Monday 30th August: Cowley to Norbury

When Canal Transport Services repainted Starcross in 2008 they omitted to do the gangplank and long shaft and Hil has been promising to do them ever since. As it was a fine sunny day – and the wind had dropped – she made a start today.

                                                    Painting the shaft and plank at Cowley

Later, we listened to the Radio 4 tribute to Humphrey Lyttleton before taking out the folding bikes and cycling off on a circular trip via Church Eaton, Little Onn and Bradley, after which Hil put  a second coat of paint on the plank and shaft.

At Norbury Junction

18/19th September 2010
Drove up from Hereford on the Saturday morning and continued to paint the shaft and gangplank until it came on to rain. Then we made a start on taking up the old, dirty, grey carpet and replacing it with new, blue, carpet tiles bought a few weeks ago in Newport. This went better than expected – and no horrible surprises under the carpet – so we drove back to Newport and bought some vinyl wood-effect flooring for the kitchen area.
In between doing this I fitted some new LED lights, bought from Baddie the Pirate, which are almost as bright as the bus bulbs they replace, use a fraction of the power and unlike earlier attempts don’t interfere with radio reception.

Then it was over to the Junction Inn for an aperitif before returning to Starcross for a meal. On the Sunday there was just time for a bit more painting before we headed for home.

The “Retirement Trip”

Norbury Jc to Manchester and back

16th  – 30th October

Saturday, 16th October: Norbury to Market Drayton
I retired from Herefordshire Council on Friday, 15th October and celebrated with friends and colleagues at the “Barrels” pub in Hereford, so it was a little later than planned when Hil and I arrived at Norbury at around 11.30. By the time we’d unpacked it was time for lunch, after which Hil took the car on to Tyrley whilst I set off along the Shroppie. Progress was slow as usual due to the never-ending lines of moored boats between Norbury and Knighton, but it was a lovely day and I was in no rush, arriving at Tyrley top lock at 16.30. Hil helped me down the five locks here and I carried on to meet her again at Market Drayton  tying up at 17.45.

Sunday 17th October: Market Drayton toAudlem

Today was my 60th birthday – so a lie-in and lots of cards and prezzies to open. I must say that if at any time during the last 60 years I’d been asked to predict where I might wake up on my sixtieth birthday, Market Drayton would have been unlikely to feature on the list.

                                                      Early morning mist at Market Drayton

It was a cold and misty morning as we set off towards Adderley locks so we lit the fire before leaving. The five locks here took as fifty minutes, inlcuding buying eggs from the self-service stall at the top lock.

                                  Descending Adderley Locks on my 60th birthday

At the bottom I stopped for coffee whilst Hil cycled back to Drayton to move the car. (Cars can be a nuisance when one of the crew has to get back to where they’ve been left at the start of the trip). We met up again at the top of Audlem locks where, after lunch, Hil completed painting the long shaft (begun a m onth ago)  before we tackled the flight of 15 in two-and-a-half hours before repairing to the “Shroppie Fly” pub for a drink before Hil cooked me a lovely birthday meal.

                                                        Buying eggs at Adderley Top Lock
Monday, 18th October: Audlem to Cholmondeston
Hil had to go back to work today and was away from Audlem by 07.30. I saw her off then had breakfast after which I did a bit of shopping and polished up the brasses before setting off myself mid-morning. The first locks encountered were the two at Hack Green where the crews of  two oncoming boats “Yspridd Rhydd” (Welsh for “Free Spirit”) and “Invincible” each gave me a helping hand. I reached Nantwich at 13.40 and stopped for lunch on the embankment, which turned out to be a prolonged stop as I was rtrying out my new 3G “dongle” in order to post on to my blog for the first time from on board. There was a further stop at the sanitary station to attend to the cassette by which time the afternoon had turned distinctly cold and autumnal. There had been quite a few oncoming boats approaching Barbridge so I was not entirely surprised to meet another right on the blind junction with the Middlewich branch. There was plenty of time to take evasive action and no contact was made, but the other skipper looked a bit rattled. I carried on for another half-hour or so to Cholmondeston, stopping for the night above the lock.

Tuesday, 19th October: Cholmondeston to Middlwich

                               Cholmondeston Lock - What a great place to live!
I was in no particular hurry on this trip so today was a short day. A Teddesley hire boat came through just as I was about to set off at 08.35 so I had to follow them through the lock. By the time they had left and I had refilled it “Harlequin” arrived behind me and its crew were very helpful both here and at the following lock. I stopped for coffee on the embankment overlooking Church Minshull – a very picturesque mooring, but not very comfortable due to the underwater shelf, against which you bang with every passing boat. The day had now turned wet and showery but there were still some sunny periods before I arrived at Middlewich at 12.55 in time for lunch and some top-up shopping. The rain returned as I set off again at 14.55 leaving me soaked to the skin as I negotiated Wardle lock and the turn onto the Trent & Mersey. Once again I had help from boaters at most of the Middlewich locks, particulary from the crew of a “Canal Boat Hire” craft, although they did steal the lock from me in the first place!

                                                  Middlewich locks

I tied up between the bottom narrow lock and the “Big Lock”, outside the park at 16.00 and later enjoyed an evening in some of my favourite Middlewich pubs, including the Boars Head, the Narrowboat and the Newton Brewery Inn.

Wednesday, 20th October: Middlewich to Anderton Lift

Woke up feeling very cold and in fact there had been a sharp frost leaving ice on the canal and heralding a bright and sunny day. Let go about 10.00 but the Big Lock was very slow, with one paddle out of action and it took almost 30 minutes to get through. There were not many boats around, but those that were tended to appear at bridgeholes, with their steerers blinded by the sun! I stopped at Rudheath for coffee and then polished the brasses while listening to the Chancellor’s Spending Review speech on the radio, after which it was time for lunch. I was away again at 14.00 for an uneventful run to the Anderton services, where I took on water before moving on to tie up near the top of the Anderton Lift at 16.30

                                                           The Anderton Lift

Thursday, 21st October: Anderton Lift to Lymm

Awoke to rain but it had stopped by the time I let go at 09.15. I met the first oncoming boat at Barnton Tunnel, which entered the far portal just as I was attempting to start my passage. The resultant delay didn’t matter because the next tunnel, Saltersford, works on a timed entry system and I arrived in the middle of the 10.00 – 10.20 slot.

                                                                 Barnton Tunnel

The are very few places for a single-handed boater to stop easily on this stretch, but I eventually found some handy towpath rings near Preston Brook, where I stopped and made a flask of coffee. The tunnel here also works on timed entry, but I only just made the 12.00 – 12.10 slot, arriving within sight of the entrance at exactly ten past. Once again I calculated that I didn’t have time to “do” the Runcorn branch, which will have to wait for another day, and carried on to Moore for lunch and a brief shopping stop from the nady mooring outside the Post Office/Village Shop. It was here that I discovered that when making the flask of coffee I had left the kettle on the gas ring and it had boiled dry! Fortunately I had caught it just in time to prevent any serious damage.  After lunch I carried on along a stretch my notes describe as “boring” (wide, deep, easy corners, not many boats!) as far as Lymm where I tied up at 16.40 emerging after a meal for a pub crawl of this rather upmarket village.

                                                                   Canalside cottages in Lymm

                                                                     The Spread Eagle, Lymm
Friday, 22nd October: Lymm to Manchester (Castlefield)
Yet more rain overnight but it cleared up soon after I got away at 09.10. It was an uneventful trip along the Bridgewater Canal, although I couldn’t find the advertised water point near Bridge 26 (I did find it on the way back). Fortunately I wasn’t desperate for water so I could wait until I reached the water point just before Castlefield to fill up, although I had to wait for another boat to finish before I could. Then I moved across to the Grocer’s Warehouse Arm to tie up on what must be one of the most attarctive big city moorings on the system.

                                                                Mooring at Castlefield
After lunch I washed both sides of the boat to make it look nice and tidy for Sunday’s party but it came on to rain before I could polish! Spent the afternoon walking around Manchester and the evening in a few of my favourite Mancunian pubs such as Peveril of the Peak; Ape and Apple and the Smithfield.

Saturday, 23rd October: At Castlefield

Hil came up from Hereford making use of her “over 55″ status to gain discounted train travel for the first time! (A “Club55″ ticket for £15). Ever since we acquired Starcross it has had a slight list to the left. Nothing to worry about, but annoying at times; it also seemed to have been getting worse. We’d long since come to the conclusion that it was at least partly due to all the heavy items (bed, cooker, sink, bathroom, sofa bed all being on that side. The only one of these that could easily be moved was the sofa bed, but it was very heavy, especially with the storage area underneath full. It was a complicated business to move it as it first had to be dismantled before it could be turned as had the dining table with which it swopped sides, but it was all worthwhile and, after a mere two hours work the list was all but eliminated! We were left wondering why it had taken us 5 years to get round to doing it!
In the evening we had tickets booked for a concert in the Bridgewater Hall: The “Last Night of the Proms” Halle style,which seemed to attract a slightly different crowd to regular classical concerts who thought nothing of getting up and moving about during the music and even leaving the hall during the finale!  Afterwards we adjourned to the Briton’s Protection nearby, another of my favourite pubs. Despite being Saturday evening and very busy in the city centre the mooring was very quiet and we had an undisturbed night.

Sunday, 24th October: At Castlefield

                                   My 60th birthday / retirement party at Castlefield

Although my actual birthday and retirement had been a week previously it had proved more convenient to all concerned to mark the occasion today with a gathering of old friends aboard Starcross at Castlefield. In the morning we realised that our mooring would be in the shade during the afternoon so moved over to what looked to be a free spot that would be in the sun. On arrival we realised why it was free: it was a gathering place for Canada Geese and the towpath was liberally splattered with their droppings. It took me the best part of an hour with brush and mop to clear it up!  During this time a hire boat entered the warehouse arm, returning shortly afterwards to ask: “Excuse me, which way is the Cheshire Ring”!

The guests were Gwen and Martin; Hugh & Jeanette; Ian & Sue; Annette and Bob and Mal most of whom knew each other although its very rare indeed that we all get together. After a few drinks and a bite to eat we took a walk around the Castlefield area before everyone went their separate ways. Even Hil had to get a train home so I was left alone for the evening so I stayed in and finished off the wine with my tea.

Monday, 25th October: Manchester to Preston Brook

                                                       Ready for the "off" from Castlefield

Today was pretty well perfect for boating, with the only blot being the abysmal sanitary station provided at Castlefield by the Bridgewater Canal Co.! After calling here to fill up with water I was away at 09.26 on a clear, bright autumn morning. It stayed that way almost all day. Lunch-break was at Lymm after which I came up behind a very slow boat that obviously had engine problems. The crew very courteously let me by as soon as it was possible, but strangely enough I soon encountered another in the same condition! It was 17.20 when I got to Preston Brook and too late, once again to do the Runcorn Branch! Oh well, there’s always next time. I could have taken the 17.30 passage through the tunnel but decided not to and to spend the evening here instead.

Tuesday 26th October: Preston Brook to Billinge Green Flash

                                                  Early morning rain at Preston Brook
What a difference a day makes! Awoke this morning to heavy rain, which persisted all morning. Set off at exactly 09.24 to catch the 09.30 southbound timed entry at Preston Brook tunnel. One of the first oncoming boats I met was a hire-boat. We met at a narrow stretch lined with moored boats and although there was room to pass properly the steerer panicked and went to pass “wrong side”. Fortunately, by this time I had stopped in mid-channel to await events. It was my turn to due something stupid shortly afterwards when I managed to lose the “coolie hat” (that keeps rain out of the chimney) on some overhanging branches. I arrived at Saltersford tunnel at 11.31, bang on time for the 11.30 – 11.50 passage, but had to wait for an oncoming hire boat that had either taken an inordinately long time to pass through or had entered after the northbound time. The next tunnel at Barnton posed no such problems and I tied up shortly afterwards for lunch.
The canal here follows the hillside overlooking the River Weaver. It can be deceptive. This canalside cottage looks idyllic at first:

                                                        Who wouldn't want to live here?

But things aren’t always what they seem:

                                         But here's the view from the back garden!
There was another hire-boat incident shortly after the Anderton lift when a steerer had to take last-minute evasive action after not anticipating that there might have been another boat just around a blind bend! The boat ended up ramming the offside bank at speed with the embarrassed steerer doing his best to ignore me and look the other way. That was the end of the excitement for the day and I stopped for the night at 16.40 at Billings Green Flash.

Wednesday, 27 October: Billings Green Flash to Barbridge Junction

                                      Dawn at Billings Green Flash

The sun was back today, but that was a mixed blessing at it shone straight into my eyes most of the morning! Fortunately there were not many boats around and those that I did meet were passed safely. After a couple of hours I tied up just above the Big Lock at Middlewich to await Martin, who was coming by train and bus from Kendal. Martin arrived promptly at 12.00 and we set off up the remainder of the Middlewich flight, turning onto the Shropshire Union’s Middlewich branch at Wardle lock.

                                              Waiting for Wardle lock

The run along the branch was uneventful except for Martin relating a tale as to how ten years ago, on his last trip through Cholmondeston lock he had been surprised to see a Class 37 diesel hauling a passenger train on the Crewe – Chester line that crosses the cut near here. These first-generation diesel locos were already scarce then and so we were both rather amazed when a pair of “37s”  appeared on a nuclear-flask train at exactly the same spot.

It was getting dark when we arrived at a very busy Barbridge Junction and we were lucky to find the last remaining space into which Starcross would just fit which happened to be opposite Ivor Bachelor’s trading pair Mountbatten and Jellico.

Thursday, 28th October: Barbridge Junction to Market Drayton

Untied at 08.30, passing Hurleston Junction at 08.50 and Nantwich by 09.30 on a lovely cloudy but bright Autumn morning.  we reached the bottom lock of the Audlem flight two hours later and stopped outside the Shroppie Fly pub at Audlem Wharf for lunch. The remaining twelve locks in the flight were passed relatively easily in an hour-and-forty minutes (8 mins per lock) and we were out of the top lock at 14.55.  The next five locks, at Adderley, took longer – an average of 12 minutes each – but that was because we were now right behind another boat and had to reset each lock before we could pass it. Our destination for the night was Market Drayton, which we reached at 17.30. The evening was spent in the town including in the Red Lion, the brewery tap for the new Joules Brewery.

Friday, 29th October: Market Drayton

Martin left on the 09.40 bus to Newcastle-under-Lyne. I had another wander around the town, calling in at the volunteer-run town museum on its last opening day of the season. Late that afternoon I also took a bus into Newcastle and spent the evening touring some of the better pubs of the Potteries by bus.

Saturday, 30th October: Market Drayton to Norbury Junction

I walked up to the town for a paper and then set off at 09.30.  Passing the five locks at Tyrley took 75 minutes – my slowest time here ever – not helped by an exceedingly slow boat coming down and having to take a phone call from the estate agent handling the sale of our house. It was a lovely sunny day, so I decided to forego a lunch stop and carry on to Norbury in one go, where I arrived at 14.30 having been delayed by another slow boat.

It was the evening of Norbury Wharf’s annual party for staff and customers – a folk-rock band, real ale bar and food all in a large marquee on the wharf with the atmosphere enhanced by the presence of a number of visiting working boats. Also present were Sue and Vic from No Problem who had been following my blog – as I follow theirs – and so knew that I’d be along.

Midweek Trip to Gnosall

15th – 17th November

Monday 15th November
Took the train up to Shrewsbury and then buses to Newport and on to Norbury village, walking the last mile to the wharf.

Tuesday 16th November: Norbury to Gnosall
Took Starcross over to Norbury Wharf to buy some coal, gas and 100 litres of diesel. Also arranged with Simon to have the bottom blacked in March next year and booked an engine service for next week. With the tank full and the engine serviced Starcross should be well set up for the winter.
Then it was on to Gnosall on a lovely sunny morning. In the afternoon I went for a walk across the fields around Gnosall and Cowley thinking how strange it was to be doing this on a Tuesday when up until September I would have been at work. Later I treated myself to some fish and chips and a visit to both the Boat Inn and the Navigation!

Wednesday, 17th November: Gnosall to High Onn and back to Norbury Jc
Today was cold, wet and windy – a total contrast to yesterday. I went down to High Onn to wind and then straight back to Norbury Junction for lunch. I caught the afternoon bus from Norbury village into Newport and made my way home via Shrewsbury by bus and train.

To Gnosall again

25th – 27th November
Thursday 25th November: At Norbury
Had the use of the car this weekend so drove up to Norbury arriving 15.30 to find the lane outside the wharf almost totally blocked by an articulated lorry carrying a narrowboat. It was waiting for an even larger lorry carrying a crane to arrive, by which time the lane was completely impassable. The wharf area was very congested, so rather than reverse to wind there I took Starcross up to the winding-hole at Grub Street, about an hour’s trip, and then back to the visitor moorings on Shelmore embankment.

Friday, 26th November:Norbury to Gnosall via High Onn
On a cold but sunny morning I took Starcross down to High Onn on an almost deserted canal, winded and then returned to Gnosall. After tea I got a bus into Stafford to go round a few of my favourite pubs in the town, but for a Friday evening it was very quiet.

Sunday 27th November: Gnosall to Norbury
After a very cold night there was ice on the surface of the canal this morning. I untied the frozen ropes with some difficulty and re-tied them, still frozen, at Norbury an hour later. I don’t usually winterise the boat until after Christmas, but on this occasion I did drain the domestic water system and water heater and I’m glad I did because little did I know that when I started to drive home at 17.30 with the temperature already at -6C it was to be the start of one of the most prolonged spells of arctic weather experienced in Britain for many years.

Last Visit of the Year

Saturday, 11th December: At Norbury
The two weeks since my last visit had been extremely cold, with temperatures in the English midlands dropping to -20C, almost unprecedented in my experience. I knew the domestic water system was drained (although as it turned out, not completely) but now I was worried about the engine. The antifreeze added to the system is designed to protect against lows of -15C or so, but it had been colder than that at Norbury for several nights in a row.

                                     Norbury Junction: Starcross is moored on the right
I needn’t have worried. The engine was fine and started first time after an appropriate amount of pre-heat. I lit a fire and warmed the boat up whilst I went over to the Junction Inn for lunch and stayed until about 16.30 when I set off home again, cycling to Gnosall, the 481 bus to Oakengates, a couple of pints in the town then train to Shrewsbury (more beer) and then home.

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